by Dr. Jennifer Landa, M.D.
Has getting dressed every morning become the chore of the century lately? Everything is a smidge too tight, some tops or pants will not even button closed or zip up? You, like many over-worked Americans, may be suffering from the effects of adrenal fatigue, a condition related to the impairment of the adrenal system. The pounds won’t budge if you are suffering from this stress-induced condition.
What is adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue describes the chronic fatigue commonly affecting millions of men and women worldwide. The adrenal glands rest on top of each kidney, secreting hormones and neurotransmitters, such as estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, adrenaline (epinephrine), norepinephrine and dopamine. These chemical messengers are vital to stress management, immune function and many functions of daily living. The adrenal glands secrete these hormones as a “fight or flight” response to deal with stress. When you have endured too much stress, your adrenal glands may burn out, leading to adrenal fatigue.
How does adrenal fatigue impact your weight?
Cortisol, the stress hormone, is released daily from the adrenal glands in small amounts, as a reaction to basic stressors in everyday life, including fasting, food consumption, waking up, and exercise. Cortisol is capable of moving and utilizing the body’s fat stores for energy under various “stressful conditions,” including exercise. In this case, it will keep your body going during a marathon or long hike. In the case of prolonged stress however, cortisol moves fat stores and deposits them deep in the abdomen. In addition to storing fat in all the “wrong” places, high levels of cortisol can impact the hormones that regulate your appetite. This may result in not only an increased appetite, but also cravings for high fat, high sugar foods.
In this case, stress is the reason you can’t seem to fight the fat. If you have hit a plateau in your weight management program or have recently accumulated excess pounds, particularly around your abdomen and chin, hormone balance and stress-reduction techniques are a must for recovery.
What are the symptoms of adrenal fatigue?
Fatigue is just one of many possible symptoms associated with adrenal imbalance. You may also notice:
- A reduced tolerance for stress
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Anxiety, depression or other mood problems
- An increased susceptibility to infections
- Cravings for sweet or salty foods
- Sudden weight gain/inability to lose weight
- Newly emerging allergies or chemical sensitivities
- An intolerance of cold temperatures
What are treatment options?
Determining if you are suffering from adrenal fatigue is the first step to finding a cure. When testing for adrenal imbalance, physicians evaluate the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol levels fluctuate throughout the day; therefore it is optimal to evaluate levels at different points during a 24-hour time period. Saliva testing is the easiest and most accurate way to ascertain your cortisol levels and determine the health status of your adrenal glands.
If you are diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, there is a three-point plan to ensure you recover:
- Hormone balance is the key step in maintaining adrenal health. The imbalance of just one hormone can disrupt the function of several systems and, in some cases, result in the decline of other crucial hormones. Get your hormone levels tested and develop a plan to achieve and maintain balance.
- Modify your lifestyle to improve your ability to handle stress. The three cornerstones of good health are the best place to start – eating a healthy diet, maintaining a routine fitness regimen and getting plenty of quality sleep. You also need to find ways to reduce stress, such as relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga.
- Supplements such as omega-3 and vitamin D, can help to fortify your system, increase overall health and assist in the recovery of your adrenal health